In an unusual move, the Gophers women’s hockey team cut down the net after winning the NCAA championship.
Seems cruel, taking scissors to something that previously wasn’t even bruised.
Amanda Leveille barely let Harvard see the net during the Gophers’ 4-1 victory on Sunday afternoon at Ridder Arena. The junior from Ontario made 19 saves to improve to 28-3-3 as the Gophers won their third NCAA title in four seasons.
“My mom grabbed me a piece of the net,” Leveille said. “She’ll probably hang it up.”
Leveille’s friend and mentor, Noora Raty, could have used it during the game as a hockey version of worry beads. Sitting above one of the goals at Ridder, Raty twisted her hands and clenched her teeth for most of the game.
Raty became known as the best goalie in the world while leading the Gophers to NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013. She admits to being less than an ideal fan.
“It’s way more nerve-racking up here than it is being down there,” Raty said, nodding at the ice. “I like being in control, playing the game. Down there, you don’t have time to think.”
That might have been a positive for Leveille. Last year, while succeeding Raty, Leveille played well all season, before allowing five goals in a championship game loss to Clarkson.
Leveille was stunned, and saddened. “It’s not too much fun standing on the line and watching the other team throw their gloves and hold up the championship trophy,” she said.
As they worked together this summer, Raty didn’t offer Leveille any epiphanies, just mantras: Stay focused. Be ready when you haven’t seen a shot for a while. Stay positive. Control rebounds.
“Noora is the best goaltender in the world,” Leveille said. “I was fortunate, my freshman year, to be able to watch her and learn from her. I wanted to win the national championship, and she was there for me. She really helped me, off the ice.
“Being on the Gophers, you don’t always face a lot of shots. You have to be ready. Watching her as a freshman, I saw that she was always ready. I wanted to develop that aspect of my game.”
The Gophers took the lead late in the first period Sunday. After Hannah Brandt made it 2-0 in the middle of the third period, Harvard’s Sarah Edney sneaked a bad-angle backhand shot past Leveille, and you could see Raty wringing her hands.
Less than two minutes later, the Gophers’ Meghan Lorence scored, making it 3-1. Lorence celebrated as if she knew the game was over, and essentially it was. Leveille didn’t face another challenge until time ran out and her teammates surged off the bench and skated toward her, hoping to make her the piñata at their party. Once again, she proved to be prepared.
Backup goalie Shyler Sletta was skating hard. “I saw Shy coming and I tried to turn away so I would land on her,” Leveille said. “Fortunately, it worked out.”
After Minnesota was upset by Clarkson last year, paranoia was as much an opponent for the Gophers as was Harvard. Leveille’s ability to shut out the Crimson for two periods enabled her team to play with calmed nerves.
“She was the reason we won the other night against Wisconsin, and then for her to just have that big-game experience was so huge for her and our team,” coach Brad Frost said. “We brought her in to replace Noora Raty, and I don’t think there are too many goalies who would like that task.
“Amanda was a freshman when we were 41-0, and she saw what that took. Then last year, I think she would agree that she didn’t play her best game — but we didn’t play our best game as a team. Tonight, you could tell she was confident. She made a couple of big saves early that allowed us to settle in.
“She still had to come up pretty big for us.”
With the past nagging and her mentor watching from above, Leveille made the nets at this championship game something worth saving.